Liberman, Meeting Mattis, Calls for Active US Role in Middle East

By Alexander Fulbright

Times of Israel

March 7, 2017


Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman met Tuesday with his US counterpart James Mattis at the Pentagon and called for an “active America” in the Middle East.

The two discussed a number of regional issues, including Iran, Syria and Lebanon, among other subjects, according to a statement issued by Liberman’s office.

Liberman told Mattis that Israel views with growing concern recent developments in Lebanon, in particular what he described as Lebanese President Michel Aoun’s transformation of the Lebanese army into another branch of the Hezbollah terror group.

Israel and the United Nationa have recently protested comments from Aoun, who said that the Iranian-backed Hezbollah plays “a complementary role to the Lebanese army” in countering Israel.

“As long as the Lebanese army is not strong enough to battle Israel … we feel the need for its existence,” Aoun told the Egyptian TV network CBC, referring to Iran’s proxy group Hezbollah.

Hezbollah, which was founded in the early 1980s to fight against Israel’s military presence in Lebanon, has long justified its vast arsenal of weapons as needed to fight against alleged Israeli violations of Lebanese sovereignty, despite Israel withdrawing all its forces from southern Lebanon in 2000.

Israel slammed Aoun’s comments and the UN said they violated the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, reached as part of a ceasefire agreement to end the 2006 war, prohibits the country from being allowed to field militias such as Hezbollah.

In their talks Tuesday in Washington, Liberman and Mattis agreed on the need to form an anti-terror coalition of “moderate forces” in the region, the statement said.

Liberman also said the security ties between Israel and the US help contribute to regional and, in turn, global stability.

The defense minister also warned of an “axis of evil” stretching from Iran to North Korea.

During his visit to the US, Liberman is also scheduled to meet with Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

The trip is Liberman’s first official visit to the US since President Donald Trump was inaugurated in January.